UTIK-UTOK Part II: Full-Spectrum, Multi-Modal Mindfulness

Gregg Henriques
Unified Theory of Knowledge
17 min readFeb 10, 2024

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This is the second in a four-part blog series, exploring the “UTIK” formulation, developed by Dr. Baron Short. UTIK stands for the Unified Theory of the Tree in the Knower, and it represents a pathway to more fully connect the subject to UTOK.

Part I started with the general summary of a person’s personal theory of knowledge (PTOK). It invited folks to reflect on their philosophy of life, and then it invited them to frame that in terms of their: a) metacontextual; b) ontological and epistemological; c) axiological, and d) eschatological commitments.

Knowledge of the world is based on more than propositional beliefs. There is also your “empirical” experience of being in the world, and in this blog Dr. Short shares his “full spectrum, multi-modal mindfulness” approach to gaining greater levels of awareness of experience. Together, these two blogs work to frame your PTOK. Aligning this with UTOK, the two blogs helps us clarify your “small m.e.” frame on the world; that is, your PTOK consists of your philosophical understanding of the world (i.e., your metaphysical worldview) and your embedded and embodied experiences of being in the world (i.e., your first-person empirical perspective).

In parts III and IV of this blog series, he will bridge PTOK with UTOK via the metaphor of a tree, and thus will move the frame from a more general theory of the knower into a more specific tree in the knower, giving us the UTIK path of the Unified Theory of the Tree in the Knower. Thus, this blog series will lay out how you might find a path to connect your subjective way of being in the world to the UTOK Garden philosophy.

Full Spectrum, Multi-Modal Mindfulness: A Stack of Four Lenses to Experience Yourself

By Dr. Baron Short*

In Part I of this blog series, I encouraged you to reflect on how you philosophically understand yourself and the world. Specifically, that blog guided you to develop a more specific set of reflections on your personal theory of knowledge (PTOK).

In this blog, I shift to focus on how you experience the world. Full spectrum, multi-modal mindfulness is a dynamic compendium of four different frames of mindfulness, which are labeled as follows: 1) attentional; 2) awareness; 3) psychological; and 4) metacontextual-recursive-transjective (MRT) mindfulness. Below I briefly describe each domain. Taken together, they bring attention to the ground as awareness and the experiential, narrating, and metacontextual layers of the self. And when you have access to each, they will come online in the moment based on what is most relevant.

Attentional Mindfulness

Attentional mindfulness fits the more common, western convention of mindfulness. To frame it, we can start with Jon Kabat-Zinn’s definition of mindfulness as awareness that arises through paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgmentally in the service of self-understanding and wisdom.

There are a host of techniques of mindful activity at rest such as breathing and sitting and during activity such as eating, walking, brushing teeth. These techniques are useful to understand the perceptual layer of self in a moment-to-moment experience. As such, this training of attention helps us step out of the ongoing narrator of justification that we otherwise tend to define ourselves by.

There are a host of potential teachers in this group, and one I like to bring attention to is Shinzen Young’s unified mindfulness. He has an aspirational goal of developing concentration power (attention), sensory clarity (what we see, hear, feel in-out), and equanimity (ability to be with what is without commiserate reactivity) to profoundly reduce our resistance and corresponding suffering. In line with Buddhist aggregates of sensation, Shinzen has simplified “see-hear-feel out” as our five senses and “see-hear-feel” in as our mental imagery, mental talk, and feeling. His work details how to explore these sensory aggregates. Bridging this to UTOK, we can see an alignment with how Gregg frames Mind2. Gregg has divided Mind2 into the four doors of perception, which are, sensory awareness of the outside world, inner feelings, imagery, and inner speech.

As we develop our Unified Theory of the Tree in the Knower (UTIK), Shinzen’s work helps us understand how to step out of the narrating, egoic self into the moment-to-moment experiential self, recognize the sensory-mental roots of the tree of experience, and even into the ground of awareness. While practice is required to experientially “see” this way of being, I will nevertheless try to describe this a bit further.

When we step out of incessant rumination, our stories, and thinking about the future or the past, we find ourselves in the flow of present moment experience. We connect with a sense of being in the world. Thoughts still come and try to pull our attention toward them, but we can also let them go. We can anchor in the present moment of the sensations of the body, our feelings, and the world we perceive.

In practical, mental health terms, getting overly lost in thought can be quite stressful and overwhelming. Finding a way to step into a simpler present moment reveals a rich, vibrant experience that can make us feel alive. We already seek this in activities, but we can consciously practice attentional mindfulness until we can bring this state of awareness on demand or habitually available as needed.

In terms of the sensory-mental roots of experience, we can focus attention and gather sensory clarity. In formal practice, we can note and label the four doors of perception that frame what UTOK calls our Mind2, which are the “inside” of mental speech, mental imagery, and feelings arising in our body, along with the “outside” of our five senses tracking the external world. With practice, we can “slow it down” and notice how attention moves quickly between this flow of content to construct our default experiences. With this recognition, we are more capable of finding and bringing equanimity, instead of reactivity, to the difficult situations we find ourselves in every day. Lastly, we can suddenly and repeatedly recognize what we see-hear-feel inside and see-hear-feel outside are both arising within the experiential frame of awareness.

Awareness Mindfulness

If attentional mindfulness has a progressive, deconstructive path to knowing yourself at deeper levels, then awareness mindfulness is more of a direct path to awareness. Both progressive and direct paths have more value if used together. There are traditions of direct path to awareness such Advaita Vedanta fullness of satchitananda (being-consciousness-bliss) or Buddhist emptiness of self.

What exactly do we mean by awareness? Gregg has a simple exercise that starts the process of getting in touch with awareness mindfulness. Close your eyes. Now open them. What you are presented with is a flash of awareness. Then, after and through this initial flash, the thinking portion of your mind starts gripping the experience and interpreting it. But getting in touch with that flash is one good angle to get in touch with what Gregg calls “pure awareness” in his model of human consciousness.

I particularly enjoy awareness practices I classify as space, time, self-inquiry, or surrender. Space practices challenge the perceptual frame of you in your head looking at a world out there. Loch Kelly is an excellent exemplar of contemporary Buddhist teaching about awake awareness through spatial techniques. With practice, you can glimpse the key shift from feeling located in your head behind your eyes to the “field” of awareness and all its contents. Within that spatial awareness, you can connect to your bodily-experiential self that arises within the space of awareness, and in an open-hearted way, subsequently connect to all that arises within the space of awareness, including people, objects, and the whole perceptual field. This could sound abstract, and rightly so from propositional descriptions, but as a matter of experience, it’s about getting familiar with more basic phenomenal structures of mind (i.e., UTOK’s Mind2) that our propositional knowledge is built upon and we often fail to recognize. With repeated practice, you can ground in a simple sense of awareness and it’s consequential sense of freedom from exclusive identification with thought, a sense of separateness, and feel into a sense of peace and connection with all of existence.

Temporal techniques involve noticing our experience of time, our past arising as a memory, and our future as an imagination occuring in the Now. Even our present moment experience arises and passes in the Now. Particular attention is placed on recognizing the Now. Eckart Tolle emphasizes this approach in his work, Power of Now. Mingur Rinpoche is also an exemplar of this direct approach. There are many others. This basically involves direct examination of how we know there is a personal past and future. With review, we only experientially know our past through memory that arises in the present moment. We only know the future through imagination that arises in the present moment. Even the present moment is in constant fluctuation and yet there is a since of timelessness that experientially feels as if it grounds the present moment and its phenomenal extensions into past and present. This too may sound very conceptual, but being aware of the temporal inversion is quite fascinating. From our thought centeredness, we can come to believe our personal past and future is quite large, and the moment doesn’t matter since it’s so small. With examination, we realize we only experience this present moment resting in a sense of a timeless Now. Of note and related to UTOK, this is about our interior epistemic way of knowing. I do not extend this into an exterior epistemic, scientific view of time, which involves observers and contextual frames of the motions of objects.

Self-inquiry was popularized in the west by Ram Dass with “Who am I?” Self-inquiry hosts a set of practices to examine first who you are not — your body, your feelings, your thoughts, your story — to pave the way to what is left. It’s worth testing that out. You think you are you. So who are you? As a matter of experience, are you only your body? Your thoughts? Your memories? Your feelings? Your story? Are these things you or are they elements of you? If you were to look for who you are that isn’t the contents of consciousness, what do you find? What is this context of consciousness that is not grasped by any form of thought, feeling, perception? While we can describe this secondarily, the primary recognition is beyond any thought.

Finally, surrender practices involve letting go of anything to change or fix, letting go that you know something about anything, and letting go of needing to control anything in this moment. As human beings, we tend to grasp the world to make it better fit what we think we need or have been told that we need. In life, we will eventually find ourselves in the uncontrollable of sickness, aging, and death of ourselves or those we love. For me, this led to psychological contractions that eventually “popped” me open. We can wait to find ourselves in this situation, or we can practice now to temporarily let go. What happens if you took a minute to not try to understand what you are or what the world is? What happens if you let go for moment not trying to control what “should” happen next within you, others, or the world? On the other side of contraction, you may find an experiential openness to what is without having to name or control it. This is practical in the moments of neurotic desire for what ought to be compared to what is. In small doses, we can be with what is, in large doses we find grace.

This family of techniques on spatial location, temporal inversion, self-inquiry, and surrender all directly point to the nameless nature at the depth of experience. With familiarity, people do find different features of an “awake” awareness. Commonly people consider awake awareness from 3 vantage points: witness awareness, formless awareness, and nondual awareness.

Witness Awareness: Here, we become dual observers, witnessing all experiences of perception, thought, and feeling without being swayed by them as we rest as an impartial observer.

Formless Awareness: This stage transcends the forms of the self and the world, an emptiness offering a fullness of freedom, peace, and love. However, the return to the world of form is inevitable as we engage in experience.

Nondual Awareness: In this stage, the dichotomy between formless awareness and the world of form dissolves, revealing that they are not separate entities. Awareness is directly known as the medium of all experiences. The inner world of a self and the outer world are experientially known as arising in awareness.

In UTIK, awareness includes all three, noting that formless awareness is usually experienced in formal meditative practice when awareness has recursed onto itself at the exclusion of contents of consciousness. Witness awareness is the context of awareness “looking at” the content of awareness in formal practice and daily life. Nondual awareness is the direct experiential recognition that the context and content of awareness are not two, rather distinctions within one. As a matter of experience, the world inside us consisting of thoughts, feelings, and the world outside that is known through senses arises as patterns within consciousness. As part of UTIK, the goal is to rest as awareness or make contact with awareness, while allowing this ground to be the support from which our layers of self arise as necessary features to engage our complex world.

Psychological Mindfulness

Psychological mindfulness allows us to observe our psyche and relational patterns with clarity. This involves examining our thought processes, both personal and collective, and our emotional vulnerabilities. By understanding these aspects, we can nurture and upgrade our personal and relational defenses as a more psychologically healthy human being. In UTOK, this work is described in detail with the CALM-MO (curious, accepting, loving, motivated to valued states of being, meta observer) examination of our public/private justifications, our emotional-relational state, and embodied state that changes with thoughts and feeling. For those unfamiliar with the unified approach to psychotherapy, please look at Gregg’s work as an exemplar of psychological mindfulness that also integrates into a unified psychology and natural science.

For me, the core features of psychological mindfulness address the core fear of not being good enough or loved enough and the corresponding intrapersonal defenses, interpersonal asks, and extra-personal efforts to compensate with perceived core emotional deficits. We can become aware of our psychological compensations, embrace the core deficits with loving acceptance over and over, and shift our psychological defenses, relational exchanges and extra-personal efforts to align better with a healthier, authentic psychological self.

This work is absolutely necessary for full spectrum mindfulness. Some people who are drawn to meditation (like me) are sometimes inclined toward avoiding the challenging work of working through emotional needs and psychological structures that cause suffering. While working on simpler levels of experience can provide a context of freedom and peace, we still have a self in the social world that commonly needs updating to optimize our traction and value in the social world. And we can all use a guiding light if we get trapped into what UTOK calls “neurotic loops” of negative reactions to negative situations that trigger negative feelings. In addition, as we do this work, we can let the insights of attentional and awareness mindfulness shine through our psychological self.

Metacontextual-Recursive-Transjective Mindfulness

Full-spectrum mindfulness identifies a family of mindfulness practices to enact a metacontextual-recursive-transjective stance on the complex self. In Part I of this blog series, I described some of the self-capacities of a metacontextual-recursive-transjective (MRT) self-layer, specifically working to view oneself in a metacontext, to recurse upon awareness and this experiential wave of self complexity, and transjectively recognize this subjective self wave is emerging from an objective behavioral stack, which itself is known only through a constrained intersubjectivity we call objectivity. Subject and object transjectively interact. So MRT mindfulness will include practices in each of those domains.

Metacontextual Contemplation of Space, Time, and Complexity

For metacontextual contemplation, we require a gentle, focused imagination on what science from a big picture has revealed about the world and us in it. Metacontext here means considering the very big and small in space, time, complexity and its relation to you as a human being. I believe this changes what it means to be a human being, and eventually accretes another self layer of identity of who you are. It frames our day-to-day activities and the world, good and bad, in a much larger context. In a real sense, you are a result of many types of ancestors, nonliving, nonhuman, and human. You play a significant role now and in your lifetime in becoming a good ancestor to what will come after you. Here are three brief descriptions about space, time, and complexity worth exploring in your MRT mindfulness.

-Space and your embodied relation. You are tiny compared to the enormity of the solar system, the Milky Way galaxy, and the universe as a whole. Sometimes this can make us feel insignificant. It’s important to include how small things are in our view of our place in the cosmos. You are absolutely enormous when comparing your human body size to the observable spatial scale from Planck length. This means you and all us humans, are actually gigantic or at least approximate a midpoint in the very big and very small of physicality. Furthermore, in the vast expanse of stars, galaxies, and superclusters, we may be of immense cosmic value.

-Time and your embodied relation of deep time, humanity’s time, and your time. You are on the emerging edge 13.7 billion years of cosmogenesis, tens of thousands of years of human civilizational history, and the decades of years of your own life. It’s worth contemplating you are now on the frothy emergent edge of cosmic time, humanity, and your own life. What we do in this life ripples into the observable future, just as the behaviors of our nonliving, nonhuman, and human ancestors have rippled into our lives.

-Complexity in a scientific analysis- UTOK’s Tree of Knowledge System (ToK) is a beautiful icon for MRT mindfulness. (I WILL INSERT LINK AND PICTURE) Basically, the observable world can be viewed as emergent layers of behavioral complexity. From an energy-information field, matter emerges at small scale as atoms and large-scale stars and galaxies. From the complexification of matter, at least on Earth, life emerges with its bio-intelligence all over the planet. From life and the development of a nervous system, minded animals with minded behaviors emerge. From minded animals, humans emerge as another layer of behavioral complexity with cultural extension and individual persons in connection. Once this has really marinated in your objective understanding, you can apply these waves of behavioral complexity as arising within you. You are an energy information behavioral wave of complexity emerging as matter, life, mind, culture, and perhaps a digital unknown.

Recursive Contemplation:

In a full spectrum mindful analysis, you are metaphorically an ocean of consciousness with an experiential wave of self complexity. When we view ourselves recursively from this inside, what emerges is a “Tree in Knower,” abbreviated TiK. This feature can be conceptually known, but for experiential recursion to be known, it requires the boost of awareness, attentional, and psychological mindfulness.

This recursive contemplation will really flesh out your conceptual understanding when we explore the tree in the knower concept in Part III. For now, simply consider this as reflecting on who you are experientially with consideration of realizing attentional, awareness, and psychological mindfulness practices. This usually starts with your story as an ego or a narrating self. It also contains the moment-to-moment experiences that reveal a present moment, experiential, perceptual, emotional, embodied thinking self-observing the moment-to-moment experiences arise and pass. At the ground of experience is the basic sense of awareness and from a nondual view our total sense of self content and world content arises and passes within this “field” of awareness. In Part III, this will be artistically represented as a tree in the knower.

For many people, our self-structure is unexamined. UTIK conceptually and experientially fleshes out your self-ontology as this tree in the knower which will be described later.

Transjective Contemplation:

For transjective contemplation, I needed to understand myself objectively, as an object studied scientifically from the outside, and understand myself subjectively via my experience as a “soul in the world” and then I can weave them together. Our identity from the recursive part of MRT mindfulness reveals we are awareness with sensory-mental contents that coalesce into an experiential self and a psychological self. Our identity from the metacontexal part of MRT mindfulness reveals we exist as a stack of objective energy-information in the behavioral dimensions of matter, life, mind, culture.

What happens when we weave these subjective-objective identities together that require first and third person points of contemplation? I find the experience of being a person in the world. This experience of being a person in the world is being generated by a mind. This mind is emerging out of a living organism composed of matter. This matter is emerging out of an energy-information field.

Before this sounds too solipsistic, let’s contemplate all this interconnectivity of processes. As a person, I influence and am being influenced by other persons and culture. The mind from which I, as a person, emerge is a behavioral phenomena I have in common with all humans, and at a non-propositional way with all minded animals. As our minds emerge from living organisms, we are in contact with an ecosystem and the life of earth itself. The matter from which all life, including our own, is remnants of ancient stars that in their explosions generated heavier atoms such as carbon. All this matter within me and you is emerging from a fundamental domain of energy-information.

Wow! So from a transjective self point of view, to know what I am requires a very examined exploration of interior and exterior epistemologies and their careful results! For experiential transjectivity of the self, we need the full spectrum mindfulness. Perhaps, you may wonder why this could matter? Well, I’ve found to know oneself and put this knowing in the context of the larger whole brings great freedom from our default thinking, a great peace from existential angst, and a great motivation to respect my ancestors that “got me here” and live fully in the transitional times we find ourselves in so that I can know I was the best ancestor I could be with the life I had.

Conclusion

Full spectrum, multi-modal mindfulness is about getting a clearer and deeper way to experience the world. It includes all four types of mindfulness, which enhances self-knowledge, reduces suffering, and helps us unify the experiential tree within us. The mindfulness elements described here can be done as formal practice, as well as informally during the day, wherein application is most valuable. Individuals will have relevant areas to develop more first. Generally working on attentional and psychological mindfulness opens energetically the motivation and capacity for awareness and MTR mindfulness. Furthermore, the experiential developments can be metaphysically framed within the more philosophical aspects of your PTOK, as detailed in Part I.

As we are linking UTIK to UTOK, it is important to be clear how these two parts of your PTOK are connected directly with UTOK. Specifically, there is a clear and obvious bridge with MEme Flower, that sits at the heart of the UTOK Tree of Life. Part I of UTIK helps the subject get clear abou their metaphysical worldview. That is, the propositions that help them clarify how they make sense of the world with logic and narrative. This is the small “m” in the MEme flower.

This blog clarified the experiential side of existence, the small “e” (i.e., first-person empirical). The following diagram of how the MEme flower frames philosophical concepts should make the connection clear.

Of course, the small me is directly aligned with iQuad Coin. The core of the iQuad Coin is the particular subject experiencing the world and being self-consciously reflective about that experience. Finally, in terms of the Big ME, that is the shared worldview we are connected in and striving to grow with and through as a collective. In this case, it is the Garden. As we showed in the first blog, here is a representation that links the iQuad Coin, the small me and the Big ME in the Garden.

In sum, Part I and Part II of this series is showing how we can integrate our metaphysical notions and empirical experiences of our particular PTOK within the larger metaphysical and empirical frames informed by science and the study of behavior that UTOK addresses so well. The next blog in the series advances this connection by drawing on the metaphor of a tree in the knower, thus bridging from your PTOK into the UTIK path.

*Dr. Baron Short is an interventional psychiatrist and medical director of the Brain Stimulation Services at the Medical University of South Carolina. He is primarily responsible for clinical, educational, and research missions in brain stimulation. He is also co-founder of Zendo, the first bioelectronic headband built to induce and accelerate the effects of meditation.

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Gregg Henriques
Unified Theory of Knowledge

Professor Henriques is a scholar, clinician and theorist at James Madison University.